Mary, Did You Know? – December 13, 2020, the Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-13, Luke 1:26-38
One of my favorite Christmas Songs is the one whose title I borrowed the title for this sermon. “Mary, Did You Know?” I love the song because it really helps me in trying to understand this person who held a place unique in all of history, being the mother of Jesus. It suggests the kinds of thoughts that may have gone through her mind in all that happened to her, which I’m so glad Luke recorded for us.
I think it goes without saying that Mary could not have understood all that was happening, or what would become of this child she was told she would have. Again, we have the full story. We have the history. We have the story of the millions and millions of people throughout the centuries whose lives have been touched by her child!
All she had to go on was what the angel said, and how it possibly related to the old prophecies and the hope that the people had in those prophecies. That’s all she had! And you know that’s one of my recurring statements. I say this a lot! We the readers have the best perspective. We always know more than the people in these stories knew. And there is perhaps no greater example of that, than Mary.
Here she was in our story, in the presence of the angel Gabriel, hearing some unimaginable things. She was going to give birth to a baby, and she would not conceive in the usual way. The baby would be conceived in her womb by God himself. “And he will be great!” the angel said. “And he will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.”
How could she begin to fathom all of that? And that’s what I love about this song! It captures what I believe to be the mental state of Mary, one who was wondering, trying to understand all that was happening to her.
Mary, did you know, that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, would save your sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy, has come to make you new?
This child that you’ll deliver, will soon deliver you
The lyrics of the song were written by Mark Lowry, who was part of the Gaither vocal band. When asked about the inspiration for the song, he said, “I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for Mary if I were to sit down and have coffee with her. You know, ‘What was it like raising the Son of God?’ ‘What did you know?’ ‘What didn’t you know?’”
And it’s the “didn’t” that fascinates me! I try sometimes to get into her frame of mind, and it is unfathomable! I’m not sure she understood or made the connection to the idea of the Messiah. And as you know, there were differing views of that in their scripture and tradition. There was an overwhelming understanding of the Messiah as an earthly, “conquering king,” one who would save them as they had been saved from Egypt hundreds of years before. When he came, he would be the “New Moses!” And remember, that salvation from slavery in Egypt was a huge part of their identity as God’s people. Certainly, the Messiah would do something like that!
Or would he? As you know the other image of the Messiah in scripture is that of the “suffering servant.” Which would be the one this baby would live out. Oh, we celebrate the other image on Christ the King Sunday, because we believe he was both. But in his earthly life, this child would be that suffering servant. And as we also know, that’s the messiah nobody wanted.
We can’t be sure Mary even made those kinds of connections with what was happening to her. At several points we are told that “Mary treasured these things pondering them in her heart.” I think she had a hard time comprehending everything that was happening to her. Yes, she showed great obedience, saying to Gabriel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” But that doesn’t mean she understood the depth of what was happening to her! I don’t believe she could have!
I read some of the criticisms of the song, and I wish I hadn’t. My reaction was, “Oh please!!!” One critic said, “Mary had to know, because the Bible tells us clearly!” Really? Did she know from what Gabriel said that the child would do all the things this song asked? Another critic said, “The song treats her as if she were a child, who couldn’t understood things!” Which she probably was, by the way – a young girl, probably in her mid-teens. But to say she understood nothing is ridiculous. Who could? Some have said it’s a very “sexist” song, as if being a girl were the reason she didn’t understand!
That kind of criticism saddens me. Because it takes the feeling and emotion out of the picture – sort of the way our “Bible voice” sometimes threatens to do, you know? The Bible clearly shows us that a person can be told something and even know something and still struggle with it – and that’s ok! Think of Moses before the burning bush, speaking to God himself, but asking God to send someone else. All of those people struggled with the call of God. I hope you take comfort in that in your own spiritual struggles. I know I do! I don’t understand everything. But I know I can trust God who does!
This scene couldn’t have happened without those kinds of feelings rising in this young peasant girl, feelings like shock, and incredulity. Yes, “Mary treasured these things pondering them in hear heart.” I think that’s Bible speak for, “She thought about them a lot.” “She struggled to make sense out of them.” She wasn’t even told a lot of these things the song asks.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy, has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb!
How could she begin to imagine such things, standing before the angel Gabriel? Even as she said, “Let it be as you have said,” she couldn’t possibly have known all that meant. Then, we can only imagine what she was thinking later when the Maji – the Wise Men – showed up at her house! And we’ll talk about that.
We always think about there being three of them. (And we sing about it! “We three kings…”) But the Bible doesn’t say that, of course. It tells us about three gifts. But there was more likely a large contingent of people making that journey. A small number of men would not set out with expensive gifts by themselves with no protection. And how unfathomable would that have been to a daughter of Israel, seeing these foreigners worshipping her child.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy, is heaven’s perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding, is the great “I am!?”
It’s hard to know if she could have known all of that. But this is the time of year when we consider if we know all of that!
Sometimes we in the protestant world don’t emphasize the role of Mary like our Catholic brothers and sisters do. We are uncomfortable with their veneration of her and their prayers to her, which are not part of our tradition. But I still think of her as one of the most interesting people in all of history! And I think it is well worth our thinking about her, and with her “pondering in our hearts” all the things that were told her about this child.
And in doing so, may we know better the one who is Lord of all creation, who has come to this earth to bring the light of his love and Grace.
Eternal God, help us as we think about the Christ child this time of year. Like Mary, as we think about all that we’ve seen and heard, help us to come to a greater understanding of what it means that you have come into this world that you “so loved.” Help us as we ponder in our hearts this Christmas season all that it means to us. For we pray in his name, Amen.